Top College Hitters for the 2008 Draft

Here is how I rank the top college hitters for the 2008 draft, as of May 6th. I'm looking at the stats and trying to make a contextual adjustment for comparison purposes, as well as scouting reports, TV and video, intuition, etc.  

1) Pedro Alvarez,3B, Vanderbilt: Hitting .294/.400/.471 in 24 games, his OPS is approximately +10 percent compared to context. Obviously this is much below expectation and his previous standards, however the injury is the main factor here. Scouts are cutting him slack and he's still expected to go in the Top Five overall, and at this point I don't see any reason to override consensus given his track record.

2) Buster Posey, C, Florida State: HItting .464/.562/.827, OPS is about +63 percent better than context. Posey's stock is rising due to his tremendous hitting this year as well as the fact that he's proven to be a reasonable-enough defender behind the plate. Ranking him ahead of Smoak and Alonso may be a bit controversial but he's done everything asked of him and finding a catcher who can hit and field is harder than finding a first baseman who can hit.

3) Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia: Hitting .412/.524/.874, OPS is about +79 percent better than context. Has also stolen 16 bases in 17 attempts, producing power, plate discipline, etc., and he can play shortstop. Some people compare him to Khalil Greene, others say he'll hit better than that. Again, this might be controversial ranking him ahead of Smoak and maybe I'll change my mind.

4) Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina: Hitting .401/.515/.808, 19 homers, 44 walks, OPS about +64 compared to context. I have loved Smoak's bat since high school...power, plate discipline, switch hitter, good glove. I could see him possibly developing into a Lance Berkman-type hitter if all goes well. Smoak fights expectations sometimes, but I think that's because people have been watching him for so long that he gets nitpicked. Yesterday I had him ahead of Posey and Beckham, and I might go back to that again.  

5) Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami: HItting .384/.550/.775 with 53 walks, OPS about +62 percent compared to context. Like Smoak, I love the bat here. He might not offer quite as much raw power, but it should be enough and his plate discipline and relative performance is just as good.

6) Jemile Weeks, 2B, Miami: Htting .390/.459/.692 with 16 steals in 17 attempts, OPS is about +40 compared to context. I am very confident that Weeks will hit for average and steal bases, and I think his defense at second base is probably a bit underrated. I'm not sure how the walk rate will hold up against better competition, and his power is going to be a question given his size. His slot here at 6 is not stable, and I could see him going down as far as 9 depending on how things look a couple of weeks from now.

7) Ike Davis, OF, Arizona State: Hitting .401/.473/.822, OPS about +53 compared to context. One thing I really like: 21 doubles to go with 15 homers, which (stat-wise at least) indicates further power projection to come; by contrast Wallace has hit just 8 doubles to go with his 15. As I said yesterday, I really like Davis intuitively. His plate discipline isn't quite as good as Wallace's but I like him.

8) Brett Wallace, 3B-1B, Arizona State: Hitting .404/.534/.737 with 13 steals, his OPS is about +50 percent compared to context. I love his bat, although not as much as Alonso and Smoak. Questions about where he will fit defensively remain, but it's hard to knock the production. I don't like him quite as much as I like Davis, intuitively.

9) Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina: Hitting .376/.504/.646, OPS about +42 percent. Best attribute here is plate discipline. I agree with the consensus view that he won't play shortstop at higher levels, and if I drafted him I'd just stick him at third base and let him hit.

10)  Eric Thames, OF, Pepperdine: Hitting .387/.503/.781, 10 steals in 11 attempts, 13 homers, 31 walks, OPS about +60 percent. Rising up draft boards, Thames has always had tools but has taken a huge step forward in skills this year, with dramatic improvements in all categories compared to last year. His relative rate of production ranks with the elite guys and I don't see any reason at all not to rank him highly.

Things to consider when looking at these ten players:

College stats have to be taken with large grains of sodium chloride, given the huge variances in competition, the metal bat, etc. Nevertheless, you can at least get a feel for how dominant a player has been within the context in which he plays.

Strength of Schedule: According to Boyd Nation's College Baseball Rankings , the strength of schedule faced by these players goes like this: Pepperdine 18, Arizona State 24, Georgia 45, Florida State 51, South Carolina 64, Miami 68, Vanderbilt 81. According to this at least, Thames at Pepperdine has actually faced the most difficult competition on the season of any of these players.

Then there are Park Factors : Arizona State 118, Miami 109, Florida State 98, Vanderbilt 90, South Carolina 85, Georgia 79,  Pepperdine 71. That deflates the Davis and Wallace a bit, and boosts Posey, Beckham, and most especially Thames.

So how do you guys rank these players, all things considered? Am I right that positional factors should weight enough to boost Posey and Beckham higher than the first basemen? How much slack should we cut Alvarez due to the injury? This is all preliminary and I'm open to argument. Make your case. 

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